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Insects and other arthropods

Bees, wasps and bumble bees

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Honey bee (Apis mellifera), foraging on a flower.
Photo: André Payette

People often confuse bees, wasps and bumble bees. If you think there’s a family resemblance, you’re quite right. They share many characteristics and all belong to one group: the Apoidae superfamily. Here are a few tips for recognizing them and telling them apart.

Bees

There are several species of bees in Quebec, most of them solitary. The best-known species, however, honey bees, are social insects with some fascinating habits. They build waxen nests, which they readily install in hives set up for them by beekeepers. Honey bees are not interested in our food, and rarely sting.

Distinctive characteristics

  • Stocky shape
  • Thick waist
  • Hairy body
  • Pollen baskets on legs
  • Length: 12 mm (worker)
  • A honey bee can sting only once, since the hooks on its stinger make it impossible to remove from its victim. The bee dies after stinging.

Wasps

Of all the wasp species in Quebec, only about twenty are social species. They make paper nests by chewing wood fibre and mixing it with their saliva to make a paste. Wasp nests are sometimes highly visible and other times hidden underground or inside a wall. You have to watch out for wasps, as they like to check out plates and garbage cans, and don’t hesitate to sting if they are disturbed.

Distinctive characteristics

  • Slender shape
  • Very narrow waist
  • Smooth body (little hair)
  • Slim legs
  • Length: 10 to 25 mm
  • A wasp’s stinger is smooth; it can sting several times. 

Bumble bees

There are about twenty bumble bee species in Quebec, all of them social. The queen sets up her nest in various kinds of cavity, most often hidden from sight – an unused rodent’s nest, for example, or a hole in a wall. The nest is made of oval wax cells.

Bumble bees visit flowers to forage for nectar, and are not interested in our food. Unless they are disturbed in their nest, they will not sting.

Distinctive characteristics

  • Stocky shape
  • Thick waist
  • Very hairy body (looks like fur)
  • Pollen baskets on legs
  • Length: 6 to 25 mm
  • A bumble bee’s stinger is smooth; it can sting several times.

What to do if you get stung

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